Knowing when to step in…


When things look like they might be going off-course, when do I step in and take control, or is that interfering? Will they thank me for sticking my head in? Or will that be a disrespectful and typically managerial reaction?

We have a lot of sayings that would rightly never see the light of day if they were coined today.

A prime example, and heard in a meeting very recently: “I’ll give you enough rope to hang yourself”. It implies that you’ll be the one responsible and accountable for your actions and decisions – and let’s assume from the start they’ll be bad ones.

But wouldn’t it be good if the phrase was “I’ll give you enough rope so I can pull you back and rescue you if you get out too far, or fall”?

What amount of latitude do you give someone, especially as they need to grow and develop in their careers and lives? And how will we know what that level is?

We learn from being told how to do something just as we learn from experiencing and doing it. The optimum depends on the individual and their learning style. Additionally, there is a balance between micro-management and macro-absorption. That’s the point, generally intuitively known because there is no mathematical formula, beyond which the remedy of mistake involves too many people, too much resource over the lesson value, and too time consuming in explaining to those who should absolutely trust anyway.

Back to the rope. OK, so it’s a metaphor for trust, security and value rather than punishment and pain. Figure out, as a manager, what the threshold is of each of your charges and know what the trigger / decision point is so that any action to and by them is correctable and fixable without too much trouble – but enough trouble that lessons are cemented and have value for them.

Above all, demonstrate that you have their backs and where true accountability rests.

This decision point will be different for all, but your security and safeguards should be equally consistent.